A journey well worth taking
|Chicago Children’s Theatre presents|
|The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane|
Review by Clint May
If the Velveteen Rabbit was full of love, his ‘cousin’ Edward Tulane is his empty opposite. Perhaps it’s because of their respective material makeup. The former is simple and stuffed, while the latter is—by virtue of his porcelain construct—hollow. Born in the studio of a Parisian dollhouse as a gift from a grandmother to her granddaughter, this bunny is more concerned with his sartorial swagger than with a child’s affections. Through a series of unfortunate and fortunate events, he ultimately learns why loving someone other than himself is what makes a life worth living.
Kate DiCamillo’s 2006 book—adapted for the stage with precision by Dwayne Hartford—has a classic sensibility at its core. Like Pixar or Maurice Sendak, she appears to make stories that appeal to her that just so happen to be labeled ‘children’s literature’ (though this is listed under ‘young adult’). There’s no fear of being melancholy or of facing dark truths amidst the merriment. She posits that it is in the aching and the missing and the loss that we learn what love truly means (like a less-intentional Jennie).
When Edward is lost at sea, he is set on a decades-long course that will bring him in contact with a kaleidoscope of characters who feel compelled to treat him as a sort of ‘therapy doll. This is perhaps because his large ears make him a natural listener. He encounters a fisherman, a hobo and his dog, a girl dying of tuberculosis and many others. One by one he becomes the repository of other’s hopes and dreams, giving him perspective beyond himself—and a heart.
This is a sophisticated and inventive production that will charm children and adults in equal measure. Much of the innovation comes from the trunk show and musical sensibilities at the core. Whimsy abounds in a shadow puppet fairy tale, a patchwork puppy and of course, the cast – brimming with effortless warmth – doing multiple roles. Patrick Budde imbues Edward with much haughtiness that turns to heartbreaking while strumming the guitar. Melanie Brezill plays many of the younger characters with remarkable believability and a buoyant energy. Kelvin Roston, Jr. is a delightfully upbeat rail-rider and a poor little brother with equal conviction, while Jessie Fisher provides the lion’s (bunny’s?) share of exposition and the role of the grandmother with a sly wit. Director Stuart Carden’s pacing and modulation finds just the right balance of mirth and reflection that DiCamillo’s beguiling source material has in abundance.
Good children’s theatre is just good theatre and shouldn’t require the modifier. Adults in the audience will feel their heartstrings tugged as their children (my best guess is that children over 9 will appreciate this most) will be enraptured by a straightforward honesty that never condescends.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane continues through November 15th at Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn (map), with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 10am, Saturdays 11am, 2pm and 6pm, Sundays 11am and 2pm. Tickets are $10-$39, and are available by phone (872-222-9555) or online through PrintTixUSA.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ChicagoChildrensTheatre.org. (Running time: 75 minutes without intermission)
Photos by Charles Osgood
behind the scenes
Stuart Carden (director), Jessie Fisher & Erik Hellman (co-music directors/composers), John Musial (scenic design), Rachel Anne Healy (costume design), Lee Fiskness (lighting design), Mikhail Fiksel (sound design), Emily Breyer (properties design), Eva Breneman (dialect coach), Katrina Herrmann (production stage manager), Andi Sturtevant (asst. stage manager), Brian Maschka (production manager), Charles Osgood (photos)